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USMNT and Canada renew budding rivalry in Gold Cup group finale

The rivalry between the U.S. men’s national team and Canada doesn’t boast quite nearly as many memorable moments and as weighty a history as some of the USMNT’s other leading rivalries, but the Canadians have been doing their part to speed up the growth of the rivalry.

Canada’s emergence in recent years has been clear to see, as evidenced by the growing number of standouts enjoying success in Europe, and the increasing number of meetings between the two neighboring rivals. From their memorable Concacaf Nations League clashes in 2019, to their looming battles in World Cup qualifying in the fall, the Canadians and Americans are shaping up to see much more of each other over the course of the next year.

That budding rivalry will see its next chapter on Sunday, in the Concacaf Gold Cup Group B finale for both teams in a clash that will determine the group’s winner. Canada has the edge heading into the match, needing only a draw to top the group, while the Americans must win to ensure first place.

Sunday’s clash will be missing most of the biggest names the rivalry has to offer, from Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David on the Canadian side, to the lengthy list of European-based American stars that includes the likes of Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Weston McKennie and SergiƱo Dest.

Despite those absences, Sunday’s match should be a memorable one, and a good chance for the Canadians to show off their depth and quality, and an attack that has generated eight goals in two matches at the Gold Cup.

“I think it’s a good team, I think they made some adjustments in the formation that really play to their strengths,” USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter said on Saturday. “And then you look at the development of their player pool, similar to ours, it’s young players, and they’ve really taken that next step and arrived on the international level.”

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Canada will enter Sunday’s match with the confidence earned by the team’s recent run of positive results, as well as the memory of the team’s 2-0 victory over the Americans in Toronto in Concacaf Nations League in October of 2019.

The Americans exacted revenge for that loss just a month later, in a 4-1 romp in Orlando, but by then the fuse had already been lit on a new rivalry. The familiarity within the teams — what with both featuring several MLS players  — has helped add more spice to Sunday’s showdown.

“I think there’s a there’s obviously a special aura and energy about that game.” USMNT Reggie Cannon said of Sunday’s match versus Canada. “We’re going to go out there and play our game, but Canada itself, they’ve been very strong these past eight games. They’ve been on a very hot streak, so to us, it’s just about playing our game, Gregg has prepared us very well, tactically and physically for what’s to come.

“We know this is a very important step in our journey,” Cannon said. “Gold Cup, obviously, is a huge honor to play in, and everyone here knows that. There’s so many young guys on this roster, they know the importance of this game. So I think we’re gonna go out there and be ready for whatever’s to come.”

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Finishing first in the group isn’t just a question of wanting to earn bragging rights. There is also the possibility that winning the group could help the winner avoid facing Mexico until the Gold Cup final.

There is also a question about whether or not Canada will field its strongest possible team for the group finale. That question arose after Stephen Eustaquio appeared to intentionally draw a yellow card late in the recent win against Canada.

Canada head coach John Herdman only served to add more fuel to the notion that he won’t necessarily deploy his strongest possible team on Sunday, with an eye on ensuring his team is as healthy as possible for the next match after that.

“We just don’t know how the tournament is going to unfold, so you can’t predict too far ahead,” Herdman said. “What I do know is I want my best group of players, the most talented group available for a quarterfinal match that’s a critical game for Canada and to get over that hump is a is a big one for this country.

“So I’ll have one eye on that, one eye on this game,” coach said. “And as you’re aware it’s a derby match so it’s important to our players and our fans.”

While Canada might be tempted to sit some starters, the USMNT is expected to deploy a veteran squad with all of Berhalter’s top options on his roster. In fact, the Americans kept several key starters out of the starting lineup against Martinique specifically to have them rested for Canada.

Cannon’s return is an important one, as he steps into the starting right back role, where he could have the task of trying to contain Canadian winger Tajon Buchanan, who has been Canada’s most dangerous weapon. The New England Revolution standout boasts blazing speed and dribbling ability that can has feasted on Canadian opponents at the Gold Cup.

The USMNT will likely counter with attacking threats such as Gyasi Zardes, Daryl Dike and Matthew Hoppe, and a defense led by the centerback pairing of Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman, who have yet to allow a goal in the run of play at the Gold Cup.

Whether Berhalter goes with a veteran starting lineup, or trots out his youngsters, he’ll have a squad that has gained confidence from its first two wins, and from the full USMNT squad’s Concacaf Nations League triumph in June.

“This group isn’t satisfied with just qualified for the next round,” Cannon said. “Now the finishing point is to overall finish first in the group. We don’t we don’t try to settle for mediocrity, and I think that’s going to be a big thing (on Sunday).

“All the guys are going to be ready. I think it’s going to be incredibly important to secure those three points to be on top of the group.”

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